Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

To me, the name Ann(e) Summers conjured up a chain of English shops that sell risqué items for hen parties.  This Anne Summers is someone very different!

She’s an award-winning Australian journalist brought up in a Roman Catholic family, who became a Marxist, then gradually awakened to feminism.  Her autobiography outlines social changes in Australia, with reference to local politicians of the 1960s and 1970s.  Marilyn Waring’s book told some similar stories for Aotearoa, and the parallels are fascinating, as is the way Anne’s political thinking changed and developed.  Many of us will remember The Tyranny of Structurelessness which she refers to.  Her story of the birth of the first Australian Women’s Refuge (financed by drug dealing!) reminded me of my time working at the Christchurch Women’s Centre.

Anne gives an incredible amount of detail about her personal history.  As one reviewer (Lesley Beasley, Canberra Times) said: The history is interesting, the issues important, but it’s the personal that keeps you turning the pages.  I’m currently writing pieces of memoir, and would hesitate to be as frank, but greatly admire Anne’s openness.  The graphic account of her younger brother’s death from cancer is especially raw.  This book is an engrossing and readable account of three decades of Australian social history.

I loved the way this candid book
described the path that her life took


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Sisters in Space

Today, April 12, is the International Day of Human Space Flight.  It particularly honours Yuri Gagarin who became the first human in space on 12 April 1961.  I remember the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, and Laika, the female dog who the following month was the first animal to orbit the earth.

When I think about Yuri Gagarin my mind is captured by an ear-worm.  I keep thinking of Cliff Richard in The Young Ones singing:

Space, they said we’d never win
They said around the earth a man could never spin
Ever heard of Major Gagarin?
You see, nothing’s impossible, impossible? Never!

In 1963 Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to travel in space.  After 71 hours she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined, up to that time.

Earlier this year Nasa astronaut Christina Koch completed 328 days in space, the longest continuous time of any woman.  On October 18, 2019, she and Jessica Meir were the first women to participate in an all-female spacewalk.

Christina Koch

Any body who ventures into space requires incredible courage.  I’ve just been watching The Crown where Prince Philip met the men who’d been on the moon and found them disappointing.  I gather the episode was intended to display Philip’s mid-life crisis.

Dog Laika the first space female
did not survive to tell the tale.


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So sad to learn yesterday of the death of Jeanette Fitzsimons, a woman of Values who did so much and worked so hard for our country and our planet.

I first met Jeanette back in Auckland in early Values Party days.  That group/movement had an immense and ongoing impact on my life.  What I remember is the generous and open sharing among us all, and the tremendous support and encouragement of each other.

So many shared meals, often pot luck, but also regular meetings of the Auckland Values women at Duxbury’s Restaurant where we ate from mis-matched plates, and Edith Piaf provided the background music.

My earliest memory of Jeanette is visiting her home in Remuera in the late 1970s.  My younger daughter and her older son became friends and often played together.  Jeanette grew cabbages in the front garden, unheard of then and now!  From a visit to a later smaller home my memory is of a cello in the sitting room (not sure now if it was hers or one of her son’s) and wide-ranging conversation.

I’m grateful for all that Jeanette did and meant.  As an M.P. she was a tremendous beacon of hope, and an inspiration and mentor to the young Green M.P.s who have followed,  Thank the Goddess for MMP!

Her cabbages are on my mind
and that Jeanette was always kind.

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This is Paula’s personal view of New Zealand women’s poetry, and it is also scholarly.  There’s obviously been a great deal of research, and there’s also a great deal of love for the writers mentioned.  Only those who’ve published a book of poems qualify for inclusion which means some names I looked for weren’t there.  I was pleased to find a couple of sentences about Airing Cupboard, the women poets’ group I’ve belonged to for the last five years.  Pleased too to see my friend the late Lorna Anker is included.

This is a substantial volume, of 461 pages, plus biographies and notes, and that sign of a quality book, a ribbon marker.  Paula made it easy to relate to the different poets with fragments of their lives and motivations, and a detailed explanation of their work with examples.  My time is over-committed during the next few weeks so I’m returning the book to the library having thoroughly read only about a third.  A sister blogger has done a more detailed review.

This book records the history
of local women’s poetry


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Our bodies, our choice

I joined the march yesterday organised by ALRANZ to demonstrate support for the Abortion Law Reform Bill, which will remove abortion from the Crimes Act, and is due to be voted on in Parliament this month.  Yesterday was a national day of action, with events in Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin, as well as Christchurch.  I chose to go to this event, rather than my usual Tuesday exercise class, because I think the law reform is so important.

We met at the Kate Sheppard memorial and I was disappointed at the size of the crowd, approximately fifty people.  I recognised two other ‘older’ activists, and we commiserated about the fact that we were still marching for women’s bodily autonomy after more than forty years.  It was good that there were so many young people there, and TV1 had sent a camera crew.

Some of the group in Cathedral Square

We all marched along Worcester Boulevard to Cathedral Square, where Sarah, a midwife, spoke eloquently about the need for law reform.  Two young women sang “Lean on me”.  There was an invitation to sign an open letter to MPs, which is supposed to be available on Facebook, but I’ve been unable to locate this.  If you care about this issue please contact your local MP and encourage them to vote for reform.

Afterthought:  A couple of days later this excellent article by Verity Johnson appeared in the Press.

For women’s choice it’s way past time
abortion should not be a crime


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I relished this book!  Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour has a wonderful turn of phrase, and is immensely readable.  The women profiled range from Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Olympian Cathy Freeman, with nineteen wonderful women in between.  It was fascinating to read of Jenni’s discovery of and reaction to these women, chosen because they refused to fall in with the expectations and practices of their day.  Jenni has met and interviewed many of the contemporary women, and makes witty and profound comments.  She is fond of the exclamation mark, as am I!  Jenni writes, where women of distinction are concerned . . . . their sexual behaviour rather than their intelligence and competence preoccupies the men who recorded their version of history.  Joan of Arc was convicted primarily because she wore trousers.  Jenni suggests we wear ours with pride in her memory, and breathe a sigh of relief that we won’t be punished for it.

The stories are totally delightful, with the author supplying interesting asides with an appealing feminist slant.  Marie Curie’s friend, the British physicist Hertha Ayrton said: Errors are notoriously hard to kill, but an error that ascribes to a man what was actually the work of a woman has more lives than a cat.  Apropos of Madonna (Ciccone) Jenni writes: We do need to have the courage to be a bit disgraceful if we’re going to overturn the idea that a woman somehow has to behave better than a man.  This book is available from Christchurch City Libraries, and is a treat to read!

Revealing women’s history
which men had made a mystery


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Aspiring Artists is part of this year’s SCAPE season, and five works by young people are displayed at the corner of High Street and Cashel Mall.

This piece is called Strength in Sisterhood and is by Rosetta Brown, Hazel White, and Georgina Jolly, all 17 year old students at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School.  It consists of metal silhouettes depicting friendship between young women.  I love that they chose this theme to depict.

Together they’ve built something strong
may they be friends their whole life long

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Parts of this book are totally fascinating, especially for anyone who was interested in politics during the years 1975-1984, when Marilyn Waring was an M.P.  1975 was when I first joined the Values Party, and I was politically active right through this time.  Marilyn explains she chose to join the National Party because Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk was opposed to homosexual law reform.  Marilyn always strove to remain true to herself and her principles, but this was difficult in a caucus dominated by Robert Muldoon.  I’d managed to bury the memory of just how dreadful Muldoon was, but reading the book I was struck by the similarities between him and Trump – both of them a bully and a liar.  It also re-awakened memories of the many women’s issues that were disputed during this time.  Marilyn gives details of the fight over the Springbok Tour and the Nuclear-Free campaign, which were so crucial in the 1980s.  The book is meticulously detailed and referenced and will be an important resource for many researchers.  I admit I skimmed some of the legislative items, but was continually impressed by just how sensible Marilyn’s contributions were.  Aotearoa is lucky to have had her as a Member of Parliament.

An M.P. who was brave and caring
we’re all indebted to Ms Waring


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Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Tomorrow, 8 October, is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science. technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  Ada, who lived from 1815 to 1842, was able to be educated in subjects usually reserved at that time for men.  This was because her parents were liberal and of high social standing.  Her father was the poet Lord Byron.  He evicted Ada and her mother from his house when Ada was just a few weeks old, left England soon after and died when Ada was eight, never having seen his daughter again.  He was quoted as having said: “I am told she is clever—I hope not!  But above all, I hope she is not poetical;  the price paid for such advantages, if advantages they be, is such as to make me pray that my child may escape them.”  As he was dying he reputedly regretted the estrangement, and when Ada eventually died she chose to be buried beside her father in Nottinghamshire.

Her mother, Lady Byron, was a maths prodigy, and did not show her daughter a picture of her father until Ada was 20.  At 17 Ada met mathematician Charles Babbage and was commissioned to translate an article about his Analytical Engine.  She added notes of her own, but it was not until a century later that these were recognised as being the first written computer algorithm because they contained instructions for a machine to follow.  Ada was therefore the first computer programmer although her programme was theoretical and never actually tested.

She really was crème de la crème
and led the way in subjects STEM

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When Rudyard Kipling came to visit
he found our rivers were exquisite
the train, he thought, was rather slow
in eighteen ninety-one, you know
he did not mark the suffragists
at that time busy making lists.
I wonder was it in our city
that he composed his famous ditty?

It went: If you can keep your head
and not succumb to fear and dread
make sure that you don’t deal in lies
don’t look too good nor talk too wise
when these instructions all are done
what’s more – you’ll be a man, my son
with hash tag me too one did oughta
consider: What if he’s a daughter?


©Ruth Gardner


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